Sometimes the best thing for my recovery after a high intensity 100 mile race, is a nice long run in variable terrain. And then again, sometimes it's just a really stupid idea.
This story is about one of those stupid ideas.
After running hard, and winning the Pickled Feet 100 last weekend, I wanted to head down to Moab and test my legs at the Behind the Rocks 30k. This is an event put on by Mad Moose Events and I've wanted to run this race for a while but it never seemed to work out.
If I was honest with myself, it didn't work out this year either, but I was in a gluttonous mood when I signed up. These things happen.
After a week of restful running, I was at least somewhat confident that my legs would carry me over the 30k course without too much drama. After all…it's ONLY 30k, right?
Jo and I loaded up the trailer, put the pups in the truck, then headed southbound into the red rock desert for a weekend of camping and tomfoolery.
The Portable Agnew Compound, Ready to Roll!!
When we finally arrived at the camping area near the start line, we stepped out of the truck into a relentless arctic blast. I somehow wasn't expecting this. The wind was so cold and forceful, that we abandoned the idea of setting up all of our camping gear for fear of losing it to Mother Nature overnight. We set up what we could before heading into town for an early dinner with our good friend, Emily Kagan. Emily had been dirt bagging around the Southwest and was planning to run the 30k, as well.
I crawled out of the trailer at 5:00 AM on Saturday and was greeted to a dark sky full of brilliant stars, below freezing temps, and a very light breeze. I was happy the wind had died down, but it was still SO cold. But the windless, star filled morning gave promise to a beautiful sun filled day.
The 50 mile race began at 6:00, followed by the 50k at 7:00, then all of us "non-ultra" runners would be heading off at 8:00. In between race preparations, I went to the start line and watched the other races start, thinking to myself that I was really happy that I had enough restraint to NOT sign up for either of those races.
Sunrise Over the La Sal Mountains
Shortly before 8:00, I lined up with Emily at the front of the start line. Emily was planning to be competitive so she belonged there. I lined up in the front out of habit.
From the start, it was clear that my legs weren't super interested in this. Not at all. My turnover sucked and I couldn't build any speed. I quickly fell from 4th place to 11th place in the first mile. I was hoping my legs would loosen up once my body got warm, but even after sweat was pouring off the bill of my visor, I was still running at a ridiculously slow pace.
By mile 3, I was being passed regularly. By mile 4, I realized it was hopeless. I had nothing to offer and it's highly likely that this whole thing was a bad idea. By mile 5, my legs were toast.
I began having this mental argument with myself. It went like this…
Me: Dude…this sucks!
Me: I know, right?!
Me: What the hell are we gonna do now?!
Me: I don't know! You're the idiot that thought this would be a good idea!
Me: Dude!!! We just got passed by a guy in basketball shorts!! How does THAT happen?!?!
Me: Shut up!
Aside from a bit of agony, sluggish legs, and an ongoing argument with myself, I was actually enjoying the race. The course was stunning, with almost constant views of the La Sal Mountains and some very cool red rock formations.
The footing didn't allow much time to space off into the distance, but at my current rate of speed, I had more time than usual.
I came to the first aid station at mile 6 and loaded up on Hammer Heed, ate a gel, and lingered longer than normal to allow my legs to rest. Next aid station was 4 miles away. I headed out, preparing for a long 4 miles.
I tried to chat with other runners as a means of taking my mind off my own misery. But to my surprise, most runners didn't find my conversation worth slowing down to listen to, and they pushed on ahead of me.
That was pretty much how the entire race went. I'd be getting passed, strike up a conversation, they'd move on ahead, repeat.
I Had Very Short Conversations With EVERYBODY in This Picture
I finally reached the aid station at mile 10, now more than halfway through the race and still unsure if I'd ever finish. This was another prolonged aid station stop. I drank, took in calories and made small talk with the volunteers. Mostly because they weren't allowed to run away from me while I was talking.
Somewhere around mile 11 I got passed by a friend that wouldn't normally be passing me. After showing some signs of deep concern for my wellbeing, she, like so many others before her, left me in her wake.
By now, my hip flexors were so tight, it was difficult to run at all. I was forced to walk every few minutes to let the pain fade. Then I realized how comfortable walking was and I slowly began to become addicted to it. I kept reminding myself that walking was not going to help my pathetic situation but I wasn't really on speaking terms with myself due to the earlier argument.
We came to the final aid station at Mile 14ish and I ended up in a conversation with one of the volunteers that recognized me. This gave me the perfect excuse to rest my hip flexors for a few minutes, so I let our conversation drag on for a while.
Heading out of the final aid station, we faced a long rolling climb to the high point on the course. Running uphill in sand and slick rock wasn't an option an hour ago, so it was totally pointless to try at this late stage of the race. I hiked with as much deliberation as I could muster, up the hill and toward the finish.
Reaching the top, I was hoping to find a gradual downhill for the last few miles, but that's not what I found. Instead, I was greeted by flat rolling slick rock and more sand. I really, really wanted (needed) that downhill.
I eventually DID hit the downhill and I tried to make the best of the situation by running as fast as I could, trying desperately to make up for lost time.
That didn't work either!
My hip flexors just wouldn't allow a decent turnover. It's like I was mired in quicksand and it was deeply annoying. All day long, I'd been trying so hard to pull a decent run together and I failed consistently. I just wanted to be done with it.
Emily Kagan Finishing MUCH Earlier Than Me, 4th Place
Still about a mile away, I could see the finish line taunting and teasing in the distance. Even as I ran towards it, it didn't seem to be getting any closer. Seriously…I needed that finish line.
I dipped into the bottom of the valley and realized the finish line was going to be an uphill run... in sand.
GREAT! Why not?!?!
Now within view of all the spectators, walking would not be tolerated. I had to force myself to retain some small amount of dignity, no matter how painful it is. So I ran. Unhappily.
Jen Stagner Passed Me at Mile 11 With the Promise of Beer at the Finish. She Delivered!
So Happy to be Done
There was a time, not so long ago, when running back to back ultras was a normal thing for me. These days, it's not so easy. I'm sure there's a lesson in there somewhere.
Maybe my days of being a prolific ultra runner are over. Or maybe I just had a bad day. Either way, it's not important right now. As painful and disappointing as the race was, I wouldn't want to be doing anything else with my Saturday.
Behind the Rocks is a great race in an amazing venue, staffed by awesome volunteers and managed by some of the best people in the business. I hope to run it again someday. On fresher legs.
As if this race wasn't challenging enough…Jo and I will be in southern Utah again next weekend for the Zion 100. We'll see how that goes…